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Rating History

Mr. & Mrs. Smith
12 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

I went into "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" expecting a pretty good popcorn movie, but in fact, it was the summer's first great popcorn flick. It was hard to doubt that there wasn't a special on-screen chemistry between Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, and they played their parts almost as if they had anticipated all the extreme curiosity about the exact nature of their relationship right now.

I won't go too much into reviewing the movie itself, since there really isn't too much to say beyond the fact that it was fun. My most serious criticism about the movie is how callously it treats the act of killing - assassinations are nothing more than a game, and Mr. and Mrs. Smith only face the consequences of their career choices when they end up having to try and kill each other.

What I want to talk about is how Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are two celebrities whom I genuinely respect. Sure, Angelina Jolie was, uh, a little strange in her younger days, but she seems to be a wholly different person today.

So perhaps I'm not in any position to judge the value of others, but how many other celebrities are really committed to the causes they publicly espouse? It's known that Angelina Jolie donates 30% of the money she makes on films to relief effors in Africa, and she does it without any self-promotion or fanfare. So whatever criticism people may have about her, she has long since earned my respect through her years of dedicated humanitarian efforts. The amazing thing is not that a celebrity like Angelina Jolie gives away so much of her money to charity or that someone like Sandra Bullock gave $1 million to tsunami relief efforts, but that so few celebrities who pull in $10 or $20 million per picture do. It's something to think about the next time some celebrity trashes the gas mileage of a Hummer (which is unconsciousably atrocious), but then returns home to a 10,000 square foot mansion that is air conditioned 24/7 at a constant 68 degrees with nary a notion of the hypocrisy (don't forget the heated swimming pool).

I can understand why Brad Pitt shared a lot of chemistry with Angelina Jolie during the making of the film, as two people who seems to have genuine concern for those living in poverty and actually working hard to do something about it. In a recent interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer, he said, "Listen, we who were born in America have to understand, we hit the lottery by growing up here, by being born here."

But Brad Pitt wasn't making some pithy statement about feeling good about being American, he was talking about having perspective. Referring to the $500,000 to $750,000 that celebrity gossip rags paid for paparrazzi pictures of him walking along a Kenyan beach with Angelina Jolie and her son, he said:

[indent]"It's a strange focus, isn't it? That my relationships or relationship mishaps takes precedent over something like that [the situation in Africa] ? I understand it's about entertainment, but man, it's misguided a bit, isn't it?"

"It's an amazing fact, the bounty that's on my head and the lengths that these people go to get these shots and the amount of money that they're paying for these shots. I can't help but think what that money could have gone to. Hell, I would have set up the damn pictures myself."[/indent]

Indeed. Read the whole thing in this [URL=http://abcnews.go.com/Primetime/story?id=813282&page=1]ABC story[/URL]

Something to think about if you happen to catch an episode of the Britany Spears/Kevin Federline orgy of vacuous self-importance in an episode of "Chaotic."

Danny the Dog
Danny the Dog (2005)
12 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

I had my doubts when I saw a short preview clip of "Unleashed" a couple years ago on the web, but my doubts were laid fortunately laid to rest. In short, this is what Jet's first big Hollywood movie should have been.

The fights were very raw and brutal and the choreography was top notch. Surprisingly, the rest of the movie worked quite well, too. Morgan Freeman has gotten to the stage where he just walks onto the set and does his "Morgan Freeman thing", just like Jack Nicholson does his "Jack Nicholson thing" in all his movies. So there was still some cliche, but Morgan Freeman came off a lot fresher and more subdued in his performance than I had expected. Bob Hoskins also put in a strong performance.

A concept movie like "Unleashed" is normally heavy-handed in terms of execution, but first-time movie director Louis Leterrier had a good touch keeping any potential cheese firmly in check.

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith
12 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes
½

So I just saw "Revenge of the Sith."

It sucked.

The movie absolutely blew and I went into it with low expections, despite the scandalously high Tomatometer rating. Where do I begin?

First of all, there was absolutely no drama and suspense. You might as well have been watching two guys playing a co-op flight sim game on an Xbox, for all the suspense that Anakin and Obi-Wan projected in the opening sequence. The light saber battles were yawn-inducing, falling far short of the light saber battles of the original trilogy. Watch any of Akira Kurosawa's samurai fights or Sergio Leon's gunslinger showdowns to understand how drama and suspense are so critical to a good fight scene.

The dialogue was wooden at best, and I noticed how Lucas seems to have an aversion to using "big" multi-syllable words. In fact, I began to be very conscious of the fact that virtually every sentence spoken seemed to be 7 words or less. There seemed to be almost a purposeful intent to avoid casting any line of dialogue in an elegant way.

What was A.O. Scott of the NY Times' nonsense about "Revenge" being better than the original Star Wars. What the hell was he smoking at the press screening?

In terms of a moral or an underlying message, was there really any besides the Dark Side is a bad thing? Was Lucas trying to say waging a war based on deceit is anti-democratic? Or is it the message that peace at all costs is not really peace at all? I thought the "Clone Wars" would be an excellent opportunity to talk about the ethics and morality of clones in a technological society (e.g. "Blade Runner", "The World of Krypton" graphic novels), but instead, Lucas seems to ignore the issue entirely and reverts to a simplistic mechanical explanation of how clones were somehow necessary for Palpatine to wipe out the Jedi and take control of the Empire.

In "Empire", Yoda tells Luke, "A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack." but we see George Lucas perfectly willing to prositute Jedis into action figures who are as quick to draw their light sabers as any clone trooper or droid draw their blasters. In fact, the Jedi seem to love battle, and for all the talk about how Jedi are selfless and care about people, we see nothing in "Revenge" that shows them to be morally different than any other people.

Obi-Wan seethes at one point, "Only a Sith deals in absolutes" (ignoring for the moment that Obi-Wan just made an absolute declaration about the nature of the Sith), but the only thing that seems absolute is George Lucas fooling people for the third time that they are watching a grand epic with a deep message.

The intent is there, certainly, but as they say, the road to the Dark Side is paved with good intentions.

It's clear from the Tomatometer as well as the user Tomatometer that the vast majority of people rated "Revenge" very highly. I suppose I can't begrudge someone from enjoying something I clearly did not, but I propose performing the following mental exercise.

Did "Revenge" have great drama (think "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn" or the new "Battlestar Galactica" series)?

Did "Revenge" have suspenseful action sequences (think the first "Matrix" movie or "X-Men 1 & 2")?

Did "Revenge" have memorable scenes of dialogue (think "Empire Strikes Back" or any of the "Lord of the Rings" movies)?

I think if you think about it, the only thing that "Revenge of the Sith" had going for it was that it was a special-effects-filled movie that closes out the Star Wars mythological cycle. There was no drama, no suspense, no wit and humor, no depth, no memorable scenes except for the last few minutes. Only the SFX riding on the reputation of the original trilogy.

For some people, that may be good enough. Based on the new trilogy, it seemed that having good SFX was the only trait that really mattered to George Lucas. Yet when you talk to people about why they love "A New Hope" and "Empire Strikes Back", they point to a host of reasons but almost always, the SFX performs a supporting role. So what does that leave us?

In 20 years, movies will easily have 100x better SFX than "Revenge" has. So someone tell me if anyone will have any reason to watch "Revenge" (or "Clone Wars" or "Menace") 20 years from now, when it's clear the only thing that makes the movie enjoyable in any way is the SFX. I'll bet people will still be watching "A New Hope" and "The Empire Strikes Back," though. And that's why "Revenge of the Sith" is a tragedy in more ways than George Lucas intended.

The Aviator
The Aviator (2004)
12 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes
½

"The Aviator" was the second disappointing movie I saw this past weekend, and disappointing enough for me to actually blog the experience. The Tomatometers for both movies were in the solid 80s, which normally means I end up enjoying it immensely, but both "House of Flying Daggers" and "The Aviator" were misfires for me. Both had great potential that neither lived up to.

My main problem with "The Aviator" was, like HOFD, the script. The screenplay was written by John Logan, which should have set off alarm bells for me. John Logan also wrote the absolutely atrocious "Star Trek: Nemesis" as well as "The Last Samurai", which - while well received by the public and critics alike - was, in my opinion, actually a poor movie weakened by self-gratuitous, heavy-handed psychobabble that was only saved by the strong performances of its principle actors.

"The Aviator" suffers from that same psychobabble. Unlike John Logan's two previous scripts, this one is purported to be a biopic of Howard Hughes, one of the most intersting and flamboyant characters of the 20th century. As such, I found it rather ironic and disappointing that Logan and Scorcese reverted to cheap cinematric tricks to create "drama" instead of making a movie that stayed truer to the life of Howard Hughes.

Logan seems to imply that Hughes' obsessive-compulsive disorder originated in childhood, from something the boy's mother told him. We saw this tendency to link some momentous event in the distant past to explain a character's motivations today in Nemesis as well as Samurai, and while childhood events can have a great influence on how a person turns out, Logan and Scorsese want to make a clean, clear link. Hughe's obsession with cleanliness, we are led to believe, resulted from his mother instilling a fear of germs into the young boy.

It's this kind of psychobabble that leaves me want to puke. Modern research indicates that OCD is caused by a genetic mutation and people who suffer from OCD have as much ability to stop their behavior as epileptics have in stopping a seizure with willpower. OCD is tragic enough already for its victims, yet Logan and Scorsese have to invoke psychobabble about an overprotective mother as an explanation for the origins of the condition.

Partly because of his OCD, Hughes was a much more interesting character than he would have been, yet the movie Hughes ends up being much less interesting than the real life Hughes. For example, Hughes was also obsessed with peas, one of his favorite foods. Before eating them, he would line them up from smallest to biggest, yet we see none of this peculiar behavior in the movie. We do not see his obsession with bannana nut ice cream, a flavor that he liked so much that his staff panicked when they learned that Baskin-Robbins discontinued the flavor, prompting them to special order 350 gallons of the ice cream. When the ice cream arrived, Hughes announced that he had tired of banana nut and wanted only vanilla instead. For years after, Hughes' staff would be giving out free banana nut ice cream to friends and relatives.

Instead, we see this obsessive desire to link Hughes' disorder with mere cleanliness, in order to link it to the psychologically important moment that occurs at the beginning of the movie. Is this really a biopic? Even Hughes' obsession with cleanliness as portrayed in the movie was uninteresting. At one point, Hughes tried to bribe LBJ and Nixon to get the U.S. government to stop performing open-air nuclear tests in the Nevada deserts in the 60s. Why? Because Hughes was living in Las Vegas after essentially having bought the town out from the Mafia, so that the hotels there could no longer kick him out.

Secondly, it would seem to me that a lot of who Howard Hughes became arose from the fact that he became an orphan at a young age. A very rich orphan with enormous amounts of money. Yet, Logan curiously makes a singular reference to this, and we never see what really formed Howard Hughes into a young man.

In fact, it is true that as a boy, Howard Hughes stated that he wanted to become the world's best pilot, the world's best movie producer....and the world's best golfer. Yet, Logan somehow has the young Howard stating he wants to "become the richest man in the world" at the end of the movie, contradicting several scenes where Hughes states that money is not important to him. This is a biopic?

More importantly was that Logan and Scorses resorted to a cheap theatrical trick to instill drama. Hughes' OCD became progressively more disabling, but by all acounts, he was still functional enough to run businesses well into the 60s. Yet, we see Logan taking extreme creative license by having Hughes descend into madness by locking himself in his little theater in the 40s, only to heroically emerge to successfully defend himself before the evil Senator. This would be like saying that Ronald Regan had a moment of lucidity from the ravages of Alzheimer in the midst of his presidency to rise up and tell Mr. Gorbachev to "take down this wall!" before succumbing forever into the grey purgatory of the disease. Absolutely ridiculous because Howard Hughes's life doesn't need such fake dramatic manipulation, yet Logan resorted to it anyway, rearranging and reordering major events of Hughes' life in a cheap, cliche way. The script is, at its core, a betrayal of the life of Howard Hughes, as it does very little to explain the origins of the man himself, except that overprotective mothers are really bad for you.

Furthering the disappointment is that the Scorsese is usually known for his cinemetography, yet there really wasn't anything special in the film. Worse, all the flying effects in the movie were noticeably fake.

"The Aviator" is the type of movies where they technique and set pieces causes people to forget that the story itself is hollow. Leonardo di Caprio puts on a good performance, but in the end, "The Aviator" is all the more disappointing because it tries to fly high and ends up stuttering and choking instead.